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Published on May 18th, 2016 |

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City’s DWM head Macrina being challenged; will she be replaced?

Word spilling onto the streets is that Mayor Kasim Reed is actively looking for a replacement for Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina, as the head of DWM and her staff were skewered during City Council committee meetings in recent weeks.

Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina discussed the significance of re-opening the 15 acres after 18 years of being shut off to the public.

Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina speaking during a re-opening of a 15-acre park near the R.M. Clayton Water Reclamation plant in northwest Atlanta.

It has become increasingly apparent that Macrina and her department provide only the most  basic information to the city’s Utilities Committee and City Council—withholding much—and  council members have to specifically request each item of back-up information they want.

“We only get the information we specifically request,” Dist. 8 City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean told BuckheadView. Two of the council committees Adrean is a member of are the Utilities Committee and Finance/Administration, both of which Macrina faced this past week.

The Utilities Committee and City Council were recently presented with legislation to pay $378,136 in Consent Order fines levied by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for unpermitted sewage spills/discharges between 2009 and 2016.

There were no specifics and Utilities Committee members asked for backup information showing all of the spills during that time. DWM presented each member of the committee this week with 3 binders, each 8 inches thick, of data to review—not in time before the legislation was passed by City Council.

What might have been helpful to members of the Utilities Committee and City Council was a copy of an Excel spreadsheet from the EPD, which BuckheadView has obtained, and which lists all unpermitted sewer spills/discharges from the city’s sewer and sewer treatment system from Jan. 1, 2009 to May 7, 2016. That was not part of the information provided by DWM.

This EPD spreadsheet shows that there were 1858 of those unpermitted sewer spills/discharges during the period.  This compares to the 34 selected unpermitted spills/discharges that were listed in Attachment A to the Consent Order with EPD that City Council considered and paid $378,136 for. (See edited image of spreadsheet below in story.)

Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina presents the department's plan to the Utilities Committee.

Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina presents the department’s quarterly report to the City Utilities Committee.

These EPD recorded spills were across the city, but many of them were in Atlanta Memorial Park and were not among those listed in Attachment A to the Consent Order.

The Memorial Park problems have recently been given attention by the Mayor’s office, which reportedly is working to help push DWM to address the causes and solutions to the Memorial Park problems on an integrated basis.

The question is whether the mayor gets the same or different information from DWM than is presented to members of City Council and the public.

While sewer flows from Dekalb County and inflow/infiltration into its sewer pipes appear to be a part of the problem resulting in sewage spills in Memorial Park, it appears that much of the problem originates within the city, its substantially uncontrolled storm water flows and limitations in its sewer/treatment system.

Actually, Macrina and the DWM staff are likely to look back upon the week of May 16 as not a very happy one for a number of reasons, not the least which would be confrontations with members of City Council.

First of all, council members were informed that the last water/sewer bills that were sent to residential and commercial properties in Council Districts 7 and 8 only included the amount due for water usage, omitting the amount due for sewage usage.

This is a system that is supposed to be totally computerized. Also, the formula for billing of sewage to use of water has been established in Atlanta for a very long time. Given both factors, how can bills possibly be sent out by DWM that omit one or the other charge?

From left, City Council members Felicia Moore, Yolanda Adrean, Howard Shook and Alex Wan, all of whom represent part of Buckhead. Shook, Adrean and Wan are on the Utilities Committee.

From left, City Council members Felicia Moore, Yolanda Adrean, Howard Shook and Alex Wan, all of whom represent part of Buckhead. Shook, Adrean and Wan are on the Utilities Committee.

(An interesting coincidence or major fauxpas? Both Dist. 7 Councilman Howard Shook and Dist. 8 Councilwoman Adrean sit on the Utilities Committee, and the Finance/Administration Committee too.)

“Word of the billing snafu came in during our council meeting so I didn’t have the chance to learn about the details,” Shook emailed BuckheadView. “COO Dan Gordon said he had identified the problem and would brief us.”

Shook also told BuckheadView, “I am waiting to hear back from the Law Department as to whether the city can send out two sets of bills. In my humble opinion, as the department calculated who owed what and mailed the bills they should eat the mistake.”

Then Tuesday morning started off with Macrina and the DWM staff first up on a long day of city department meetings with the Finance/Administration Committee for preliminary reviews of their proposed fiscal 2017 budget requests.

Adrean began the quizzing—which at times seemed more like interrogation—by challenging the 278 vacancies in DWM and the budget request in salaries from $53.9 million in 2016 to $59 million for 2017 (an increase of $5.6 million for regular salaries).

On the other hand, Adrean pointed out that $132 million in revenue had been projected from the MOST for 2016, but DWM was only projecting $125 million for fiscal 2017. “There’s a big swing between underestimating revenues and over projecting salaries,” Adrean stated.

Later in the session, Adrean came back to the issue of unfilled staff positions, pointing out that with 278 openings there are absolutely “no listings for jobs” on either the DWM or Human

This is a version of the GAEPD spreadsheet of “Atlanta Spill Data” that has been edited by BuckheadView to remove about 200 spills that did not occur within the systems affecting Buckhead or geographic areas near Buckhead within the city. Click on the image to read the chart, which includes 1,652 spills.

Resources webpages. “It appears to be a huge disconnect,” Adrean stated.

Dist. 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore pressed Macrina hard about what resources are dedicated within DWM to repairing broken water meter lids and water meters in the residential areas. She also challenged Macrina as to why the department can’t seem to fix water leak situations.

“People are livid that water is running down streets, wasting the water, and don’t understand why these can’t get fixed.”

(As if an omen, almost simultaneous with Moore’s questioning about water leaks on Tuesday morning, a major water main leak began washing out the roadway at State and 14th Streets in Midtown, creating a major cave-in situation. Crews worked all day and into the night to fix it.)

There were no precise answers for the questions of Adrean and Moore, but there were promises DWM would get back to them with the information they requested.

Post 2 At-Large Councilwoman Mary Norwood told Macrina, “I want to make sure that there will be financial resources available in 2017 to correct the problems that have been existing for decades.”

Macrina answered, “We will continue to work the plan we already have in place. We will work diligently to move forward with our capital improvement program.”

Left to right: City Councilwoman Mary Norwood chats with neighborhood residents Gail Driebe and Jason Holland the event where Mayor Kasiim Reed toured Atlanta Memorial Park to witness firsthand the problems with flooding and sewage contamination.

Left to right: City Councilwoman Mary Norwood chats with neighborhood residents Gail Driebe and Jason Holland the event where Mayor Kasiim Reed toured Atlanta Memorial Park to witness firsthand the problems with flooding and sewage contamination.

Obviously not satisfied, Norwood stated, “We have to do whatever in order to correct the public health issues involved. It is too important for our communities. We have spent 20 years and still have communities not being treated fairly.”

Shook concluded the questions from the council members asking for support information for a number of the budget items, including if there is a national standard for spills per 100 miles of sewer pipes, if staff people are being added should not overtime trend downward not up, and the status of the Care and Conserve Program and grant writing (Blue Heron Nature Preserve lost out on a grant due to a missed deadline).

But Shook placed a lot of emphasis on wanting much more information about DWM’s “Purchased and Contracted Services”, a budget item that went up 13 percent to $5.8 million in the proposed fiscal 2017 budget request.

Admitting the two benefits of contracting out services can be efficiency and “cheaper,” Shook asked for the mid-range cost of contractors versus filing those positions inhouse. Again, Macrina said she would get back to Shook with answers.

Editor’s Observation: Katrina Taylor Parks, who, as one of the mayor’s key aides, sits in on committee meetings so as to be able to come to the rescue of beleaugured staffers, has been conspicuously absent during the recent skewering of Macrina and DWM staff at those meetings. Does that suggest Macrina’s future?

 

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